It was another game where the Falcons took their foot off the pedal in the second half because they did not execute.
And particularly in the second half, that lack of execution lies in the hands of Matt Ryan. Ryan played well for the most part, but he missed some reads and throws on critical downs late in the game. On the second series of the third quarter with the Falcons trying to drive to take a two-score lead on 3rd-and-13, Ryan threw too low to White. That was the play that was ruled a catch, but later overturned on the replay. He made the right call to throw low so that he wouldn’t get Roddy crushed by Reshad Jones, but it was just a bit too low for Roddy to make the catch. It got credited with a drop by White because he should have caught it, but maybe if it was a foot higher, it would have been an easier catch and potential conversion.
Then on the next series following the William Moore interception, Ryan made the wrong read by throwing to Harry Douglas over the top when he should have gone to Gonzalez over the middle on the slant. It was just an easier read and throw.
At the start of the fourth quarter with the Falcons in the red zone, pressure from Dion Jordan (against Lamar Holmes) rushed a 1st down throw that Ryan threw out of the back of the endzone. On the next down, Ryan went for Douglas in the end zone on a fake screen to Julio Jones. Brent Grimes cheated up initially on the screen, and I think Ryan thought he could sneak one over him for a touchdown. But Grimes quickly recovered and Ryan threw an uncatchable pass on the wheel route to Douglas. Meanwhile, Jones was open in the flat for what could have been at least a 5-yard gain if Ryan had thrown it initially, and if Jones had broken a tackle or two (certainly plausible) it’s a first down if not touchdown. Then on the very next play, Ryan doesn’t pull the trigger on the slant to Jones. I think he was a bit worried about Grimes breaking it up (although on tape, it is clear that Grimes wouldn’t have gotten there in time), and with a little bit of heat up the middle, Ryan instead rolls out of the pocket and nobody is able to get open in the endzone. So the Falcons have to settle for three.
On the next series in the red zone on 3rd-and-4, the Falcons are attempting a throwback pass to Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is supposed to chip a blitzing Phillip Wheeler and then drag across the middle. Jimmy Wilson comes free on a corner blitz from the slot. Gonzo was open, but with Wheeler and Wilson in his face, Ryan pumps rather than throws. He spins out of the sack, but then is forced to throw it away before Dannell Ellerbe gets the sack on the delayed rush.
Those latter two instances are plays that were there, but Ryan didn’t pull the trigger. I think one of the criticisms of Ryan, and I personally feel a major reason why he’ll never be a truly elite quarterback in the class of passers like Drew Brees and Tom Brady is because of that inability/unwillingness to pull the trigger on those tighter-window throws. And I think those last two third down plays are just more examples of that. In those situations, the Falcons are in the red zone, and I understand not wanting to make a throw that winds up costing the team points. You don’t want a pick in those situations, where you get zero. At least if you throw it away and live to play another down, you can get three points out of it. So it’s hard to be too upset over it because it’s a smart play on one hand, but sometimes you wish for a little bit more bravado when it comes to Ryan in those situations. That’s just the sort of give and take that we’ll always have to live with Matt Ryan for the next five to seven years. And that deficiency is what makes him maybe the sixth best quarterback in the league as opposed to the third best quarterback in the league. And at the end of the day with all things considered, it feels like you’re nitpicking.
As for the rest of the offense, it was nice to see the running game get back on track. There was spacing up front, with several of the Falcons key blocks coming on the second level. Justin Blalock did a nice job pulling and had one of the more impactful run blocking performances I can recall seeing. Jeremy Trueblood wasn’t great in terms of his run blocking, but did a fairly solid job in pass protection with no real issues there. In the second quarter, on a screen pass to Douglas (his only catch of the game) the Falcons ran in the red zone, if Trueblood had hit his assignment down the field, it would have probably been a touchdown. Instead the Falcons were stopped at the 2-yard line and ultimately settled for a field goal after Jason Snelling was bottled up on the next play. That was their multiple first red zone failures. Holmes did a solid job run blocking at left tackle as well. Holmes needs to continue to get better in pass protection, although I guess he was improved at left tackle since he really can’t get much worse. He still continues to struggle with his punch, as he was struggling both with speed and bull rush from Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. Holmes is still very much a work in progress, but he’s making small strides.
Jacquizz Rodgers and Snelling looked excellent on the ground. Rodgers really enhanced the blocking up front with several instances where he was able to avoid a missed block in the backfield and turn a few yards lost into a few yards gained. Snelling did a good job as a pass catcher, although he did give up a pressure on a blitz where he blew his assignment.
The Falcons need to get Gonzalez more involved in the passing game, with only a single target after the first series. As I noted before there were instances where they either tried or missed opportunities to throw to him. But he was able to beat a couple of double teams on the opening series and I noticed a couple of other plays later where they were still doubling or bracketing him, so that somewhat explains his lack of production. But against New England, Dirk Koetter and Ryan need to make a more concerted effort to get him involved.